Movie Review: La La Land

film-picA trip to La La Land this winter costs $7.50 (if you use the coupon before 1pm) and lies within a twenty minute drive away from any given location in West Michigan. And no, I’m not talking about Los Angeles or a pre-planned daydream.

La La Land, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, opened December 9 to select U.S. cities, but just arrived in Grand Rapids on Christmas Day. The film opens with a song and dance sequence more about the sport and spectacle of a large-scale movie musical than plot, but story drives the show for the remaining two hours of the film, telling the tale of Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone), two no-names attempting to fulfill their dreams in Hollywood. Sebastian, a pianist, longs to open his own jazz club, and Mia, an actress, aspires to land just one of the many roles for which she’s auditioned. The down-and-out pair meet and – surprise, surprise – after a few pieces of witty dialogue, along with a tap dance number, end up falling head-over-heels.

Classic movie aficionados will appreciate the multiple references in La La Land  to films from the 40s and 50s. I especially enjoyed the subtle nods to Casablanca hidden in the dialogue and storyline. Times have changed since Bogart’s time (e.g. cell phones and gluten-free pastries) but the general flavor of the movie is a complete throwback to the good ol’ days of Singin’ in the Rain with prolonged dance sequences, colorful costumes, elaborate sets, and a lovable hero and heroine.

Perhaps the most surprising part of La La Land is the conclusion, which hit me like a brick the first time I saw it. While it was unexpected, the ending adds depth to the story that I hadn’t foreseen. After watching It’s a Wonderful Life only days before viewing La La Land, I was struck by the parallel themes; both films communicate similar messages from opposite points of view. As a dreamer and aspiring creative myself, I found my thoughts trailing back to these themes, carefully considering what they meant for me personally.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed La La Land and recommend it to anyone who likes music and art in general. The songs are catchy, the musical score is beautiful, and the cinematography is exquisite… La La Land is a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. Since it’s rare to find an original musical in movie theaters these days, particularly a musical as old-fashioned and clean-cut as La La Land, I was thrilled to discover this fresh cinematic treasure.

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